Robotic Tech Helps Stroke Patients with Rehab

December 8, 2008
Sean Johnson

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have reported that use of a new, hand-operated robotic device in combination with a functional MRI (fMRI) has shown that "chronic stroke patients can function normally again."

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have reported that use of a new, hand-operated robotic device in combination with a functional MRI (fMRI) has shown that “chronic stroke patients can function normally again.” This is because the fMRI maps the brain of stroke patients to track rehabilitation. A. Aria Tzika, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital, explained “We have learned that the brain is malleable, even six months or more after a stroke, which is a longer period of time than previously thought. Our research is important, because 65% of people who have a stroke affecting hand use are still unable to incorporate the affected hand into their daily activities after six months.”

Prior to the study, researchers had believed that there was only a short window (approximately three to six months long) in which patients could improve. The study looked at “five right-handed dominant patients who had strokes at least six months prior that affected the left side of the brain, and, consequently, use of the right hand.” The participants were asked to squeeze the specially designed MR-compatible robotic device for an hour a day, three times a week, for four weeks. Participants also underwent fMRI before, during, and after training, in addition to during the non-training period, so that researchers could measure tiny changes in blood oxygenation levels when a part of the brain was active. Results of the study showed that “rehabilitation using hand training significantly increased activation in the cortex—the area in the brain that corresponds with hand use. And the increased activation lasted in the stroke patients who had exercised during the training period but then stopped for several months.”

The authors of the study claim that these findings should give hope to all stroke patients and their families. To find out more, keep tabs on the recap for the 2008 Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.